Helping Hands provides emergency housing for young people who are the victims of abuse, abandonment and/or neglect.
“This is not a warehouse, and it's not a dumping ground or a jail; this is a home,” said Carmen Landy, Helping Hands executive director.
The organization has five buildings on its campus, which is located on John Elliot Lane. There are 58 beds and 7,000 square feet of living space.
“Our residents come from all over the state of South Carolina, and their ages vary; right now, they range from birth to 21 years,” Landy said. “They have been removed from their homes by court order. The average stay is four months. Some are here for only a couple of days, but there are children with us now that have been here for probably two years.”
Helping Hands is more than a source of shelter and food.
“We try to help our children become better – emotionally, educationally and physically,” Landy said. “We teach them to do chores, and we give them access to mental health counseling and medication management.”
Helping Hands residents attend schools and churches in the community, and they also get involved in various volunteer projects in the Aiken area.
They receive tutoring to help them with their homework. In addition, they can take piano lessons, learn how to quilt and go fishing.
“We do our best to make it pleasant, but the Helping Hands volunteers are the ones who really enhance the experience,” Landy said. “We have probably 100 to 125 occasional and regular volunteers. With their instruction, our teenaged boys have built picnic tables and benches. A lot of our volunteers teach what we call life skills, such as how to sew a button back on a shirt when it pops off.”
In addition, “there is an individual plan for every child, which is usually court ordered, to either go back to their family, go into a foster home or be adopted,” Landy said. “Nobody comes under the care of the state anymore with the objective of remaining there until they become an adult. Young people who have been at Helping Hands have gone on to graduate from college and have successful professional careers. It's rewarding when they tell us they remember the things that we taught them and use the tools that we gave them.”
Helping Hands has approximately 40 employees and a budget of “right at $1.3 million” annually, Landy said.
“Most of the funding for our residential program comes from our contract from the S.C. Department of Social Services,” she said. “We're also supported by the United Way of Aiken County and United Ways from other areas in South Carolina.”
Last year, Helping Hands acquired Aiken Youth Empowerment and, since then, it has overseen that organization's programs, which are designed to promote healthy behaviors in young people. Prevention of teen pregnancy is a goal.
“Teenagers typically don't have the coping skills that are required to manage their lives and manage children, so they have a higher likelihood of becoming abusive parents,” Landy said. “We feel like it makes sense for us to be involved in this kind of prevention effort because many of the children at Helping Hands come from homes where they have been abused.”
Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. A native of Concord, N.C., she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.